Our Original Crusader President
Wednesday - December 06, 2006
A surefire way for a MidWeek columnist to reduce his weekly readership to 11 is to do a book review.
So this is not a book review. It’s the story of how a book can make us see the tragedy of George Bush and the Patriot Act without mentioning either one.
A perfect topic as we observe the event that took us into war with Japan and ponder our future in Iraq.
It’s all in historian John M. Barry’s The Great Influenza from Penguin Books.
Let’s get right to George and the Patriots, or how it all began 88 years ago.
Woodrow Wilson seems as close to a religious-crusader president as we’ve had until the current one. Historian Barry says Wilson’s convictions with no signs of self-doubt made him “one of those rare men who believed almost to the point of mental illness in his own righteousness.”
When he took us to war against Germany, he said, “I will not cry peace so long as there is sin and wrong in the world. America was born to exemplify that devotion to the elements of righteousness which are derived from the revelations of Holy Scripture.”
Haven’t we heard that someplace else?
The Espionage Act of 1917 stopped just short of press censorship, but allowed the postmaster to refuse to deliver anything deemed unpatriotic or critical of the Wilson administration. The Sedition Act of 1918 made it a 20-year prison offense to “utter, print, write or publish any disloyal, profane, scurrilous or abusive language about the government of the United States.”
Patriotic sing-outs blossomed and songs that could hurt morale - I Wonder Who’s Kissing Her Now - were banned.
The Secretary of War wrote all our college presidents that “military instruction under officers of the U.S. Army will be provided in every institution of college grade which enrolls 100 or more male students. All students over the age of 18 will be encouraged to enlist.” Not may be,but will be.
Wilson warned the Congress that “there are citizens of the United States, I blush to admit, who have poured the poison of disloyalty into the very arteries of our national life. Such creatures of passion, disloyalty and anarchy must be crushed out.”
The Librarian of Congress was told to report the names of those who asked for certain books so the government could monitor “the individual casual or impulsive disloyal utterances.”
All of this eventually (and thank goodness) was declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court - with Oliver Wendell Holmes the lead decision writer.
Of course, while we were weeding out traitors we were still neglecting 20th century medicine. Our colleges had 200 endowed chairs in theology and five in science. Until 1880, most medical schools required no high school, no literacy and certainly no practice on patients. You paid your tuition and were declared a physician.
And as American soldiers moved to the Europe battlefields they brought with them the great influenza.
And if this were a book review (it’s not), I’d also recommend John Tayman’s fabulous The Colony, about the Molokai leprosy settlement, and Lawrence Wright’s 9/11 book The Looming Tower. Also, if you dare be seen reading it, Richard Dawkins’ best-selling The God Delusion.
But as I said, this is not a book review!
Why would any sensible person endorse the movie Samoan Wedding? It is not funny and is insulting to Samoans.
Only two out of five characters seem to work, and all drink to oblivion most nights on unknown money sources. The gorgeous island girl is a nymphomaniac with a nose mole. The most handsome Samoan guy says he prefers white girls.
This piece of vanity filming should have been kept in home-town (New Zealand) projection booths.
Correction: The photo with last week’s column was mis-captioned. That’s not the new Hilton. Those are the twin-condo towers (Somerset Suite) rising on the site of the old prison grounds.
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